The Lost Art of Writing Christmas Cards. (And Some Things We Should Maybe Lose Instead)

Christmas Cards

Right now, I could be writing my Christmas cards. Instead, I’m going to write about writing my Christmas cards. Except this post is not really about writing Christmas cards. Pay close attention.

You see, I’ve always loved writing Christmas cards. (It’s the writer thing, don’t judge.) I used to spend a solid two weeks writing notes inside cardboard pictures of Santa-hatted puppies and star-studded snowscapes. My hands would cramp, my neck would cramp, half the recipients couldn’t read my handwriting anyway. But every card was like a trip down memory lane. I’d reminisce about highlights from the year, pull out special memories to share. Maybe I couldn’t chat over cocoa and cookies, but I could send a summation and hope for one in return.

I was dismayed once when a group discussion launched into a diatribe against Christmas letters. “They are nothing more than people bragging and trying to make you feel bad about your own life,” they said.

I had never heard of such a thing. I loved Christmas letters. Christmas letters were one of my favorite gifts. Often it was the only time I got to hear updates from long-distance friends, and as more people stopped sending them, I knew less about the lives of people I still cared about but simply did not see. Social media usurped the Christmas letter; I miss the annual summary.

In retrospect, I understand what the group meant (although I would argue social media is a bigger culprit of that). But I still disagreed. I want to hear from the people in my Christmas card stack – the big and amazing; the small and mundane. I want to share life. In my Christmas letter, I’m sharing a piece of myself, with you. I’m sharing my time, my effort, my cramping hands.

Part of the Gift

It reminds me of a story I read once where a man went on a long journey to deliver a small trinket and the recipient asked, “Why didn’t you just send it with a courier? It would have been faster.”

The man replied, “The long walk was part of the gift.”

I feel that way about my Christmas cards.

Wrapped between the fold is a smile for all the times that come to mind as I write your name. I twist a prayer between the pen strokes. I wonder what you have been up to, how you have been, when I will get to see you again.

Christmas cards are my connection point. And connection is the point.

Writing Christmas cards might not be your thing, and that’s okay. (I still miss your letters, but I get it.) The question is: What is your thing? What forges connection, weaves memories, heightens the “little something extra special” for you?

Maybe you like to bake goodies to disburse all over town.

Maybe you like to shop for that extra special something that tells someone, I get you.

Maybe you like to host dinner parties, call long-lost cousins, drop by your neighbor’s house…

Everybody has something.

But too often, our something gets lost in the everything.

We want to do it. We enjoy doing it. But we can’t get around to doing it because everything else gets in the way.

The Everything We Need to Lose

Tonight, I was running late from work (as usual), skipped the grocery store (I can go one more day without bread), and ran into the library because the due date was today. I slid my books in the return and was hustling unseeing out the door when a magazine rack by the door caught my eye.

I did not pause, but the image stuck in my eye. A Model Railroader magazine.

My dad would have loved to be sitting in that overstuffed chair by the door paging through that magazine. I would have loved to be wandering the stacks, pulling books at random, sitting cross-legged on the floor – even as an adult – to read the magic inside and smell the scent of books. I would have loved to have been there, with him.

The sidewalk was dark and the lights from inside the library were so very, very bright. My footsteps never slowed, but time snapshotted that scene like a stop motion movie. I was so immensely happy and so immensely sad that the gold and black shadows could have been the embodiment of me.

I scheduled a vacation day.

These meetings can be shifted. These emails can wait.

This laundry, this vacuuming, this how-am-I-out-of-bread-again can all wait.

Maybe I will start my Christmas cards. Maybe I will visit my neighbor who I haven’t seen in six months, even though she lives right next door. Maybe I will sit on the couch and pet my dog and look at the lights and just be.

True Light. True Words.

I can still see the people inside that library. How bright it was. How full of… words.

Do not let the everything dampen your something.

I no longer hand-write letters in each Christmas card. I resorted long ago to a typed letter, which felt initially like cheating but is a serious improvement for anyone who actually wants to read it. (And everyone else can file it away.) I still handwrite the recipient’s name, tuck an unspoken prayer between the pen strokes, fold a piece of myself and my year into the envelope.

People may or may not receive my cards as the connection I perceive them to be. Perhaps I, in turn, sometimes miss the connections extended to me.

The most precious gifts always contain a piece of the giver, and we would be wise to acknowledge that. It is a point God made abundantly clear. After all, He didn’t just send us a Christmas card.

He sent us Himself.

May God open our eyes to the true gifts of each giver, and the ultimate gift of the ultimate Giver.

Wishing you moments of reflection and the gift of connection during this holiest of seasons.

This post was first shared at Merry Christmas!

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Meet Janet!

Janet Beagle, PhD is the founder of The Mustard Patch. She divides her time between the Midwest and New England, and if she’s not writing, she’s probably out hiking with her 2-and 4-footed friends.